“I don’t know how you do it!” Every homeschooler has heard this comment more than once. In this series, we tell you!
My name is Amber and I live in Eau Claire, WI. I am married to a wonderful man named Jason and we have 4 children – girls aged 12 and 4, and boys aged 10 and 7. I have homeschooled all along except for a short stint of Lutheran school right after my fourth child was born and I needed a break. I am shocked when I think of myself as entering my 10th year of homeschooling! Yet, as I look back, I have learned so much over the years.
I went to public school, college, and graduate school. I planned to be a working mom, but when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter I felt so attached to her and decided to stay home. As she approached school age, I just couldn’t let go and send her away and not know what she was doing all day. There have been some really hard times and times I wanted to quit. But the Lord has been faithful to give me the endurance to keep persevering. I remind myself that not many good things worth doing are going to be easy! Many days I have to stop, repent, and pray for wisdom. Then repeat! I know God wants to bless our homeschool and my desire to teach my children, above all, His love and His ways.
We are currently on summer break. I do love teaching my kids, but I also love the summer when I can be “just mom.” I am about to do my homeschooling planning for the upcoming year. For the last two years I have done Pam Barnhill’s course called “Plan Your Year.” It really helps me remember what to plan and get organized. Things rarely go exactly as planned, but I have done better and more consistent home educating, having something to fall back on as well as my “minimum viable day” figured out for each child. She has some free forms on her website that you can use to get a sense for what the program is about. I purchased it once, but can use it every year!
We aim to school from approximately the last week of August until the Friday before Memorial Day. My oldest daughter’s birthday is August 29th, so we always take that day off by her request. I have followed the wise advice of other homeschoolers to not start with a full week of school. We usually do about 3 days the first week, 4 days after Labor Day, and then a full week after that. We also have our first and last day of school traditional breakfast—scrambled eggs and cinnamon rolls. I usually buy them one new school supply or little gift and make signs—“Welcome to 2nd Grade!” I then take a picture of them with their sign and have them fill out a printable first day of school sheet. We don’t do every subject every day either at the beginning, but start with just Math and Language Arts and add in additional subjects every couple of days. The state of WI requires 875 hours of school per year so I took that and divided it up and I have a number of days we aim for each year.
Because we have such LONG winters, we try to get outside as much as possible in the fall to play or do nature study. We also bring our school books outside! The older I get, the more I appreciate being outside and I have been trying to force myself to even get a walk around the block after lunch when I am tired and just want to do nothing. I have to really push myself in this area!
Our days start later lately as my children have grown older. I am a night owl and rarely am asleep before midnight. I spent so many years up in the night with babies and toddlers that sometimes I think I am still trying to get sleep that I missed for all those years! At least one of the children is up before me and things have been even more unusual now that my husband is working from home. I used to get woken up by my youngest child, but now I often wake on my own. During school, we aim to be at the kitchen island around 9 to start our Morning Time. By around 9:15 everyone has breakfast (or 2nd breakfast) before them and I get started.
We start Morning Time with a call and response from the liturgy and then prayer. I use prayer cards that I got from Not Consumed. I really like them because each child gets a chance to pray for a variety of things and practices praying aloud. I have a Morning Time folder that I have the list of their names inside and I move a sticky flag next to the names so that we know whose turn it is to be the prayer leader. Then, we finish with the Lord’s Prayer. Next is a devotion, scripture memory, and our hymn of the month. I also have a list of rotating things that we do during Morning Time – read aloud fiction, read aloud nonfiction, Shakespeare, art appreciation, poetry, music appreciation, riddles, Bedtime Math, Mad Libs, holiday activities, etc. Morning Time is my favorite part of the day! Our days ALWAYS go better when we start with God’s Word, of course! It also gives us time to bond as a group. I have sometimes purchased PDF Morning Time plans from Pam Barnhill or tried her free seasonal ones. Morning Time might get cut off right after our Bible activities because we have too much going on that day. I keep all of the books for Morning Time in a basket in the kitchen. Cindy Rollins also has a free Morning Time guide on her blog. I always encourage homeschoolers to do some type of Morning Time/Circle Time/Symposium (call it what you want) and just fit it into their schedule whenever it works. I feel so much more fulfilled when we start with the Word and also experience truth, beauty, and goodness together in our day!
There is fighting at the island during Morning Time, spilled cereal, stool spinning, and sometimes a hangry mama! But we just stop and then keep going! I can get so ashamed when I have YELLED during devotions! But, again, repent, apologize, and move on. I have asked the children to not be doing anything else other than eating during our Bible portion, but as we move into other subjects/activities during Morning Time I let them draw, color, use Thinking Putty, sticker books, or other quiet activities. My youngest child was free to go and play alone.
After Morning Time, we might take a brief recess outside or a 15 minute play break. It depends if we need to get going anywhere that day. Then, we head to our school room. Last year we made the investment in basic desks from Ikea for each of the children. We had purchased a used short children’s school table that we had used previously. My oldest daughter had outgrown that and I was looking for physical boundaries for the kids (i.e. keep your hands and your books on your own desk). We are very glad we made the investment. Everyone has a place for their books, supplies, and their own mess. Some students still end up working on the floor or the kitchen table. When the kids were younger and I was really only schooling one, I simply had a crate in our kitchen that had the school books and math manipulatives in it. It is only as my children have gotten older and more of them are doing school that I have liked individual magazine racks and now desk drawers to keep their own items separate and not lost. My youngest also has beads, games, puzzles, etc that she can do that are in our school room as well.
Previously I had done a spiral notebook method where each day I would write in each child’s assignments, but last year I made clipboards and printable sheets for each child. I really liked having a sheet printed where I could write in the date, the number day of school it was, and then highlight the subjects I expected them to do that day. In a perfect world, I would highlight that the day before for the next day, but I was not consistent with that. I still have room to grow in my correcting expediency and my assignment sheet highlighting!
My older children were pretty self-directed by last year, in 7th and 4th grades. My oldest would sometimes need to read aloud to me, need help with math, and have me do dictation with her. My 4th grader used an advanced math curriculum and often needed help with that and then needed to do narration and read aloud for either Language Arts or History. I would do reading lessons with my 1st grader and then try to stay close when he worked on his handwriting and math. I don’t require much book work from my kindergarten and 1st grade students, just the 3 R’s.
My 1st grader should be done by a 12:30/1:00pm lunch (unless he played too much with his younger sister) and my 4th grader was often done or nearly done by lunch because he likes to push through and complete his lessons. My oldest had the most work to do and is also a more lax personality, so it wouldn’t be unusual for her to not be finishing until 4:00pm with multiple breaks. I usually announce that I am hanging up my teacher hat around 4:00pm and if anyone needs help they better get it soon!
I do not have a schedule of when I help or work with each child individually. I just help them as they need it. Sometimes, they all want me at the same time! I try to just go in order of request and encourage the others to move on to a different question or subject until I can help them. I do not allow anyone to interrupt me teaching a reading lesson to my new readers. They are so focused and working so hard that I take it seriously to not have them be distracted. I try to plan to not get any house work or my stuff for my side gig done in the morning. If I am disciplined, I don’t have my phone or tablet with me so I can focus on my job as Home Educator. My children are more focused if I am near them. Afternoon trips to the park, Children’s Museum, or library are great motivators to finish up schoolwork.
We also do learning outside our home. Twice per month we do an online Nature Study class where there is about 45 minutes of instruction and they complete a page in their nature notebooks. Twice per month my school-aged children also take homeschool science lab classes at a local lab run by a former public school teacher. They also take 8-week sessions of homeschool vocal choir, handbell choir, and art classes each semester. We are members of a local Christian homeschool group and we do monthly field trips and family activities with them.
When my children were younger, I honestly did not keep track of school days. We probably only did seat work/workbooks 3 days a week. We read TONS of picture books, they engaged in oodles of imaginative play, and we went out and did lots of field trips and play dates. When my oldest was in 3rd grade I felt she needed more consistency and so that is the grade in which I really “buckle down”. Every year has looked a little different depending on if I had a baby and how old the children are. To the moms with all little kids – give yourself lots of grace! Teach them about Jesus and read them books and stories. Love them. The book work will come! There are some great blog posts if you google “The Baby is the Lesson!” God hand-picked you as your children’s mama and he determined their birth order! He does not make mistakes! My favorite homeschool book that I have read is Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie. Rest does not mean “easy,” but God is helping me to not be so uptight and task-oriented. To love and SEE my children each day. Homeschooling has held wonderful lessons for me in my sanctification. I feel so blessed to be able to have my children home, even on the (many) difficult and trying days. May God bless us all as we do our best to stay steadfast!
Amber Richards lives in Eau Claire, WI with her loving and supportive husband, Jason, and their four children, ages 4, 7, 10, and 12. She loves Jesus and enjoys reading, chocolate, singing, theater, and her side gig of selling handmade goods made by women freed from human trafficking.